The Modistae (also called Modists or speculative grammarians) were the members of a school of grammarian philosophy known as Modism, active in northern France, Germany, Britain and Denmark in the 13th and 14th centuries. Their influence was felt much less in the southern part of Europe, where the somewhat opposing tradition of the so-called "pedagogical grammar" never lost its preponderance.



William of Conches, Peter Helias, and Ralph of Beauvais, also referred to as 'speculative grammarians' predate the Modist movement proper.

The Modist philosophy was first developed by Martin of Dacia (died 1304) and his colleagues in the mid-13th century, though it would rise to prominence only after its systematization by Thomas of Erfurt decades later, in his treatise De modis significandi seu grammatica speculativa, probably written in the first decade of the 14th century. Until the early twentieth-century this work was assumed to have been authored by John Duns Scotus. Widely reproduced and commented upon in the Middle Ages, it remains the most complete textbook of Modist speculative grammar. The mistaken authorship arose out of the natural affinity of Erfurt's speculative grammar with Scotus's metaphysics.

Theory of modes

The philosophy of the Modistae, as indicated by their name, was based on a theory of 'modes' of meaning in language which was tripartite: modes of being (modi essendi), modes of understanding (modi intelligendi), and modes of signifying (modi significandi). To the Modistae, the various parts of speech were viewed as representing reality in terms of these modes. The modi essendi are objectively existent qualities in an object of understanding, the modi intelligendi the understanding's means of representing the modi essendi, and the modi significandi grammar's means of representing the modi intelligendi in language. This corresponds to Aristotle's tripartite semantic theory of words representing concepts which represent objects.

Opposing nominalism, they assumed that the analysis of the grammar of ordinary language was the key to metaphysics. For the Modistae, grammatical forms, the modi significandi of verbs, nouns, and adjectives, comprise the deep ontological structure of language, which objectively reflects reality. Their work predicted the concept of universal grammar, suggesting that universal grammatical rules may be extracted from all living languages. Roger Bacon may have given the movement inspiration with his observation that all languages are built upon a common grammar, a shared foundation of ontologically anchored linguistic structures. He argued grammar is substantially the same in all languages, even though it may undergo accidental variations between languages.


There are parallels between speculative grammar and phenomenology, a fact that was picked up early on by Martin Heidegger, who wrote his first book, Die Kategorien-und Bedeutungslehre des Duns Scotus, on Thomas of Erfurt's treatise (at that time still mistakenly attributed to Duns Scotus).


See also


  • Ashworth, E. J., The Tradition of Medieval Logic and Speculative Grammar, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto. 1977.
  • Bursill-Hall, G. L., Speculative Grammars of the Middle Ages: The Doctrine of the partes orationis of the Modistae, Approaches to Semantics, 11, Mouton, The Hague, 1971.
  • Fredborg, Karin Margareta: Universal Grammar According to Some 12th-Century Grammarians, in Studies in Medieval Linguistic Thought, ed. Konrad Koerner et al., Historiographia Linguistica, VII.1/2, John Benjamins, Amsterdam, 1980, 69-84.
  • Fredborg, Karin Margareta, Speculative Grammar, in A History of Twelfth-Century Philosophy, ed. Peter Dronke, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge-New York, 1988, 177-195.
  • Marmo, Costantino: A Pragmatic Approach to Language in Modism, in Sprachtheorien in Spätantike und Mittelalter, ed. Sten Ebbesen, Gunter Narr Verlag, Tübingen, 1995, 169-183.
  • Rosier, Irène, La grammaire spéculative des Modistes, Lille 1983.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • linguistics — /ling gwis tiks/, n. (used with a sing. v.) the science of language, including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and historical linguistics. [1850 55; see LINGUISTIC, ICS] * * * Study of the nature and structure of… …   Universalium

  • Radulphus Brito — (d. 1320) was an influential grammarian, based in Paris. He is usually identified as Raoul le Breton, though this is apparently disputed by some. [ [ Bibliography of Raoul le Breton] de …   Wikipedia

  • grammar — grammarless, adj. /gram euhr/, n. 1. the study of the way the sentences of a language are constructed; morphology and syntax. 2. these features or constructions themselves: English grammar. 3. an account of these features; a set of rules… …   Universalium

  • History of linguistics — Linguistics as a study endeavors to describe and explain the human faculty of language.Historically, linguistic study was motivated by the correct description of a liturgical language, notably that of Sanskrit grammar by IAST|Pāṇini (fl. 4th… …   Wikipedia

  • Alcher of Clairvaux — was a twelfth century Cistercian monk of Clairvaux Abbey. He was once thought to be the author of two works, now attributed by many scholars to an anonymous pseudo Augustine of the same period [… …   Wikipedia

  • Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft — Die Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft, also die Geschichte der systematischen Beschäftigung mit der menschlichen Sprache, erstreckt sich über beinahe die gesamte schriftlich fixierte und damit nachvollziehbare Menschheitsgeschichte. Verschiedene… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Escuela Modista — La escuela modista (también llamados modistas o gramáticos especulativos) fue una escuela de gramáticos del siglo XIII, muchos de ellos procedentes del norte de Francia, Alemania, Bretaña y Dinamarca, cuya influencia se notó menos en el sur de… …   Wikipedia Español

  • speculative grammar —       a linguistic theory of the Middle Ages, especially the second half of the 13th century. It is “speculative” not in the modern sense but as the word is derived from the Latin speculum (“mirror”), indicating a belief that language reflects… …   Universalium

  • Martin of Dacia — (Martinus Dacus, Martinus de Dacia, Martin de Dacie, Morten Mogensen, 1220 1304) was a Danish scholar, master of arts and theology at the University of Paris around 1250–88, and the author of Modi significandi, an influential treatise on grammar …   Wikipedia

  • modistă — MODÍSTĂ, modiste, s.f. Femeie care confecţionează (şi vinde) pălării femeieşti şi unele accesorii de podoabă. – Din fr. modiste. Trimis de LauraGellner, 03.06.2004. Sursa: DEX 98  modístă s. f., pl. modíste Trimis de siveco, 10.08.2004. Sursa:… …   Dicționar Român

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.